We are chasing wild geese in the early morning light. The sun slants through the trees and it is so bright I must squint to see.
My feet, bare and cold, are also covered in goose poop. These are the sacrifices one makes as the mother to a boy who is almost three.
Jacob runs ahead of me and then stops short, peering back at my face.
“Let’s go slowly and quietly,” I suggest. And he runs back to grab my hand.
Tiptoeing through the pungent wet grass, we clutch each other’s fingers. We creep so quietly, so slowly, the geese allow us closer than I would have imagined. My son is quieter than I would have imagined.
Not wanting to push our luck, I say, “Wait. Let’s stay here a minute and watch them.”
Jacob grins at me. He whispers, “I want to chase them, Mommy.”
As I nod, he lets go of my hand and runs straight into the feathery fray.
Jacob is fire and wind, a wildfire raging. In the wee hours of his first mornings I saw worlds behind those deep brown eyes, and I prayed the screaming and flailing and resistance to my love would settle into a peaceful, restful spirit.
Now he is belly laughter and barrel rolls and an encyclopedia on his favorite birds. He is tears over songs in minor chords and fears of Disney movies–even after the evil is vanquished. He so desperately wants to consume the world, yet the world is often just too much for him.
Someday, God willing, he will move mountains. But now? Now he is a little boy who desperately wants both freedom and control.
Our trusted nanny must leave us and we are trying someone new.
When I return from my errands, Jacob flings open the gate and runs through the carport, his wild sun-kissed hair glowing in the light of the setting sun. “Mommy!” he cries, all hair and limbs and Lightning McQueen underpants. I squat down to his level to give him a hug and I notice he is shaking. He won’t make eye contact with me. His words are coming out too fast, and he is moving too fast, too.
The sitter, who is feeding Henry, my sweet, roll-with-the-punches 18 month old, tells me Jacob acted jealous because she held “the baby” all day. She tells me Jacob wouldn’t listen (but she doesn’t call him Jacob, she calls him “what’s his name”).
She looks at me wide-eyed and tells me he is wild. She tells me when Jacob kicked his brother, she held a piece of ice to his foot and told him to pay attention to the way it burned.
What burns me is the realization I will always stand between what I know of my son and the way others perceive him. I am consumed by the desire to protect him, to explain him, to prove to the world that while he is wild, he is also beautiful.
But it goes without saying: an uncontrolled fire is dangerous.
I will have to shed my sensitive skin many times over to become strong, let the scales fall from my eyes to more clearly see. May God grow me into the mother he needs to help him flourish in a world that will not always love him.
Wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem, conduits to great transformation. As dead trees and decaying matter turn to ash, their nutrients return to the soil and provide a fertile place for new life to take root.
May God show me how to teach him how to control the burn.
It wasn’t until we took our holiday to the goose fields that Jacob ever wanted to share a bed. Now, every night he begs to be held, begs for me to stay with him in the dark, to curl my body around him and whisper that everything will be all right.
But can I promise him everything will be all right when I’m not sure I believe it myself?
Can I teach him how to lean into his good, wild beauty when for so long I’ve poured water on my own glowing embers?
The night after the ice, it is as though he is trying to crawl back under my skin, back to the place where he was first known and loved.
I whisper into his hair: “You are precious to me, Jacob. God made you so special, just the way you are. And I really, really like who you are.”
Quick as geese taking flight, he turns and presses his cheek against mine.